Custom Cocktails, from the Mixers to the Cubes, it’s all About You
Jeff Selden holds a Brunch Blonde cocktail that he created based on the French Blonde cocktail from the 1920s.
Bourbon and scratch-made pumpkin syrup are not among the ingredients I would put together for a signature drink, but it worked out for someone else, which is the point. Days after crafting the cocktail for a fall wedding, Jeff Selden has made one for me, which I am happily sipping on a recent morning.
The delicious drink tastes as if someone spiked a pumpkin pie. In one of the prep rooms at Stamford’s Marcia Selden Catering and Event Planning, Selden juggles about a dozen bottles of spirits and a handful of mixers to work his magic. It’s where he meets with clients to create their dream drinks. Selden’s mother launched the business more than 30 years ago and he joined about five years ago, after about 20 years in the luxury hotel business in New York City. He handles beverage services for the company. Over the past several years, he’s seen a steady increase in requests for customized cocktails for parties large and small.
“There is definitely an audience out there … people who are intrigued by it,” he says, getting ready to make a Brunch Blonde cocktail — a take on the French Blonde, which has been around since the 1920s. His requires a frosty egg-white topper that he fires up like brulee. “Most people want something that’s new, unique and that hasn’t been done before … so that pushes the envelope to continuously come up with new ideas.”
Not only do clients want the drinks to be special, but what about the ice cubes? Selden’s got them. His crafted cocktails have been poured over rocks that are perfect spheres, mustache-shaped and cut like diamonds. Have a certain color in mind? No problem. He can color coordinate a drink to match a company logo or a bride’s color theme.
But the creativity doesn’t stop there. Pulling out all the stops, Selden makes signature syrups and his own handcrafted bitters — spirits made with grain alcohol steeped with roots, herbs, barks, coffee beans and other botanical extracts that provide flavor and aroma to mixed drinks. For a party last October, Selden’s team worked with rapper 50 Cent to promote his new vodka line, Effen. Guests sipped on cocktails with edible gold leaf and ice cubes containing Effen vodka poker chips.
Interest in artisanal bitters has been growing at bars and restaurants, too, says Linda Kavanagh, director of the New England Culinary Group in Stamford.
“Gone are the days with the sour mix out of the gun; it’s just not happening anymore,” she says. “The sweet and savory ingredients from the kitchen are finding their way to the glass.”
It is a natural outgrowth of consumers’ desire for a multisensory culinary experience — color, smell, taste, texture. “It’s not that we are any more sophisticated. It’s just that we now know these things, we know to ask for these things and we have learned to enjoy these things,” Kavanagh says.
1 (750-milliliter) bottle grain alcohol, such as Everclear 151
12 parts dried orange peel
2 parts gentian extract (made from the roots of the gentian herb)
2 parts cardamom
2 parts coriander
1 part allspice
1 part cloves
Place ingredients in a jar, such as a Mason jar, with a tight-fitting lid. Chop up or crack ingredients to expose more surface area for better and faster infusion. Add liquor, making sure the ingredients are completely submerged. Cover the jar tightly.
Give the jar a good shake once a day. Infusing time may range from a day to several weeks. Regularly smell and sample. It will be ready when it strongly conveys the ingredients. To smell, put a drop or two in your palms, rub them together and hold your hands to your nose. To taste, put a couple of drops in a glass of water or taste it straight, but it will be intense.
When ready, strain out the solids. For finer straining, use a coffee filter. Place the strained infusion in a clean bottle. The bitters will maintain optimal flavor for about a year.
Note: You can place ingredients in separate jars for a more intense flavor. Start with 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried botanicals per 4 ounces of liquor. The classic herbalists’ weight to volume ratio of 1 part dried botanical to 5 parts liquor, or 1 part fresh botanical to 2 parts liquor. For the dried fruit peels, you can peel the orange and let it dry for a few days, put peels in an oven overnight at 150 degrees for 12-16 hours, or use a dehydrator.
— Adapted from a recipe by Jeff Selden
French Blonde Cocktail
1/2 ounce St. Germain
1 ounce gin
2 ounces White Lillet
2 ounces freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice
Splash citrus bitters
Mix in cocktail shaker with ice and serve. Turn it into a Brunch Blonde by making a French Blonde. Empty mixture into glass and then drop an egg white into the shaker. Shake well until egg white foams. Top off cocktail with mixture, sprinkle with a top coat of sugar and then use a kitchen torch to create a brulee topping.
— Jeff Selden